Tiger not showing any signs of injury

Updated: June 4, 2010, 5:58 PM ET
By Stephania Bell |

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Documenting Tiger Woods' every move on the golf course over the past three days -- including before, during and after swings -- has been a study in quiet observation. In the absence of Woods' specific insights as to how he's feeling between holes, it has been an exercise of looking for physical evidence.

Examining Woods' posture during static between-shot poses and his dynamic movement during functional activity has been the task, all the while looking for any signs of pain and discomfort. It's amazing how so little can reveal so much.

First and foremost, Woods displays no outward evidence of any limitations associated with his neck. He appears comfortable on the course both when setting up shots and taking swings. There is no sign of discomfort, no wincing or guarded movement, no reaching to massage a sore area, no rolling of the head or shrugging of the shoulders to loosen up the neck.

Other than the occasional grimace resulting from the sting of a less than desirable shot, there is nothing to suggest that physical pain is playing any role in his performance.

In his pre-tournament news conference, Woods noted that he had regained range of motion in his neck, a significant improvement since his withdrawal at The Players Championship. Inflammation of a facet joint in the neck, the condition Woods reported on his website, is often associated with limitations in range of motion, particularly rotation of the head and neck. The problem was on the right side of Woods' neck, making it likely that he had the most trouble with rotation to the right.

If one tracks Woods' neck motion during his swing, he starts by setting up over the ball with his spine in a fairly neutral posture. During his backswing his shoulders and trunk rotate a modest amount to the right, meaning his neck is relatively rotated, to some degree, to the left.

On the other end of his stroke, at the end of the follow-through, Woods' trunk and shoulders rotate significantly to the left. This results in his neck being rotated quite far to the right. Not only does he move into that position, he lingers there, albeit briefly, as he visually tracks the path of the ball (presumably) down the fairway.

This final portion of the swing has the potential to be a very provocative pain maneuver in the presence of an inflamed facet joint. The natural instinct in that case might be to avoid that extreme range which could lead to shorter driving distances or directional faults.

This injury was perhaps a contributing factor in Woods' poor play earlier this year when he struggled at times to hit fairways. While it might not be possible to separate all of the variables impacting Woods' performance, it only makes sense that injury superimposed on time away from the game exacerbated any deficiencies.

Golf writers who have been following Woods for years and who are accustomed to the nuances of his game noted the potential side effects of such an injury. golf writer Bob Harig considered the probability that the impact extended beyond the actual competition setting.

"In retrospect it made me wonder about his ability to practice properly," Harig said. "Given the long layoff, coupled with an injury, you could almost explain away his struggles in scoring."

So far at this week's Memorial Tournament, Woods has displayed full range of motion with no signs of impingement (pinching) and, in fact, has managed to keep the ball on the fairway on a more regular basis. Whether that holds up throughout the weekend remains to be seen, but after making three straight birdies during his final nine holes Friday, Woods certainly did not appear to be suffering.

Is he playing up to his level of expectation? Not yet. But at this point his flaws seem to be more a function of needing repetitions than needing rehab on his neck.

As Woods told reporters after his second round, "Here we are in June and I'm at the point which most guys are beginning of the year."

Woods quickly noted that this is indeed a building process and he continues to focus on his daily improvements.

"I hit more good shots today than I did yesterday," he said.

With three of the four major tournaments left to play, if Woods is able to put the neck injury behind him and his performance continues on an upward trend, this could yet be a successful season. Just a quiet observation.

Stephania Bell is a physical therapist who is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. She is a clinician, author and teacher with extensive experience in the area of orthopedic manual therapy and sports medicine.